Farming With Faith:

Geoff Guenther

From January 13 to 19, a group of 15 students from the Newman Community, Colgate’s Catholic student group, participated in a spiritual and community service retreat at Nazareth Farm in Salem, West Virginia. Maroon-News Editor Geoff Guenther spoke with sophomore Courtney Walsh, who organized the trip.

Maroon-News: Whose idea was the trip?

Walsh: [University Chaplain] Mark Shiner has been taking a group ever since he’s been here, and the Chaplain before him took groups before that. I’m on the Newman Board – the Catholic Leadership Board – and each member was assigned to a committee. I was assigned the coordinator for this trip. I knew that I wanted to be a part of this trip since my first year. Mark extolled it.

M-N: What kinds of service projects did you do?

Walsh: I learned how to work a hydraulic wood splitter. I installed ceilings, dry walled a house and painted houses. One of the houses we went to in a neighboring town burned down in an electrical fire last year. The house was in shambles. We were all assigned different tasks to help out. In another house, the ceiling was completely moldy and dirty. We actually installed a whole new ceiling! It was incredible.

M-N: What was your experience like?

Walsh: It was one of the best experiences of my life. I’ve thought about this a lot, and I think that people put barriers between themselves and people who are less well off than them. It was a humbling experience, and I feel like I have a lot of things in common with the people I worked with. Community service isn’t working for people it is working with people. This experience taught me that things like class shouldn’t separate us. I never thought that way before; [community service] is actually about the experience. I would definitely go back. We were only allowed to take two or three showers the whole time, and only one could be indoors because the farm ran on a well. I showered outside when it was 30 degrees outside. There was snow in the bucket shower, which is basically a perforated tin can. It was crazy! I’ve done things like this before so it wasn’t a dramatic ‘I can’t believe this sort of poverty exists’ sort of thing. It was like this is something that is becoming a part of me.

M-N: What would you do on a typical day?

Walsh: We weren’t allowed to have watches or cell phones or computers or iPods. We would wake up and it would be literally pitch black outside. We’d have prayer in the morning and then we would do chores around the farm: things like shoveling snow, chopping wood or making lunch, and then we’d have breakfast. Everything was very simple. It was all organic, locally grown food. The whole farm is about simplicity, hence the showers and the lack of technology. After breakfast we would head to one of the work sites and stay until late afternoon. We’d come back and have dinner, then there would be nightly prayer or communion service. After that there was free time, which was awesome. Two other colleges had students at the farm. There were students from Sienna College and Iona College so we got to meet all of these new people. We learned how to play guitar, played cards, chatted. At the end of the week we had affirmation, where … people went around and said how they see God and each other. It was magical! I loved it and I definitely want to go back. It was a great place.

M-N: Would you want to go back?

Walsh: I definitely want to go back. It was really nice because you get the service aspect, the Habitat for Humanity-type stuff, and you also get prayer. It was really nice.